Perhaps in a much less significant way, Victoria Duval’s life — one that’s been tested more severely than most people see in a lifetime — mirrored her second-round match Thursday in the Southern Lifestyle Development Classic.
Duval lost the first four games of the first set to Zuzana Zlochova before claiming the next three games. The 21-year-old American still dropped the first set 6-3, but she was gradually building momentum against the 27-year-old Slovakian.
Duval had already played her first-round match Tuesday in LSU’s indoor facility because of inclement weather. When she’s playing indoors, where wind is not a factor, she wants to play aggressive and dictate the tempo of each game.
But Duval, currently ranked 492nd in the World Tennis Association rankings, admitted she needed to be mentally stronger against Zlochova than she was on Tuesday, a 6-4, 7-6 (1) victory against Emina Bektas.
“I think I usually play better from behind,” the Florida native said of her 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 win Thursday. “I don’t want to be behind, but I guess it makes me focus a little more and use a little more energy."
Duval’s ability to persevere has never been questioned, but the energy she needed on the tennis court on days like Thursday wasn’t always there. This December will mark her third year free from cancer. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014.
Duval, who knocked off 2011 U.S Open champ Samantha Stosur in the 2013 Grand Slam event, announced her illness during her run to the second round of Wimbeldon in 2014 She climbed to as high as No. 87 in the WTA rankings after her trip to London, but she was required to take a year and a half off as she received treatment.
To understand how taxing Hodgkin’s lymphoma is to the body, one must go through it, she said. Even by the time she returned to the courts in August 2015, it took time to build up the stamina she once had. She never doubted she would return to top form, but it wasn’t any less difficult.
And she acknowledged the timing wasn’t great for a career that was just taking off.
“Obviously, that’s never good timing, but especially where I was in my career, it was really bad timing,” Duvall said. “I never really had moments where I said, ‘Why me?’, or anything like that. I faced a lot of difficult things in my life, and I never have that attitude. I think that’s kind of what gets me through things so quickly."
Indeed, a cancer diagnosis wasn’t the first time Duvall or her family had to overcome traumatic circumstances. When Victoria was 8 years old, her mother, Nadine, moved her three children from Haiti to Florida permanently after a 7-year-old Victoria and family members were held hostage in an armed robbery at her aunt’s home in Port-au-Prince.
“I’ve actively tried to forget it,” she said. “It’s just one of those things. I’m not the only person that it happened to. It happens so many times. I had bigger fish to fry with my tennis, so I just wanted to focus on that.”
Then, in 2010, Victoria’s father, Jean-Maurice, suffered severe injuries during an earthquake in Haiti. Jean-Maurice — who, like Nadine, is a doctor — remained in Haiti after his family moved to the United States and returned to Haiti after receiving treatment for his injuries in the earthquake.
“He’s doing well. He recovered really well,” Victoria said of her father. “Obviously, the first few years were a little tough, but he’s a fighter. He never gives up. So he’s working on rebuilding his life, rebuilding what he was working on in Haiti. So he has us, and he has a lot of support as well. So we never really feel like victims in the family, which I think is awesome.”
When life slings monstrous obstacles at her feet, Duval says her sterling resolve is “inherently in my genes” — something she said is evident by her parents reaching the the top of their medical fields.
And as for her tennis career, she’s building toward a return to the U.S. Open, skipping the grass court season in Europe to compete in ITF Pro Circuits events in the United States. She’ll compete in the quarterfinals Southern Lifestyle Development Classic on Friday against fellow American Julia Elbaba.
"The goal is to be in the U.S. Open, so I’m trying to have the best summer I can to get ready for that and hope that everything goes well physically," Duvall said. "We’ll see if I make it to New York.”